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Late Comeback Effort Falls Short in Men's Basketball Loss to Siena

Too Strong
Junior wing Justin Bassey led the team in scoring, but his final attempt to force overtime was too strong.
In a back-and-forth matchup where momentum swings reigned, Harvard men’s basketball’s early offensive struggles paired with Siena’s runs just before and after halftime ultimately sunk the Crimson in Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y.,. Despite a few late comeback attempts, Harvard’s efforts were too little, too late to overtake the Saints.

“We dug ourselves a hole, and we didn’t play particularly well in the first half, and I thought that spilled over somewhat into the second half,” coach Tommy Amaker said. “We had some life and tried to dig out at the end.”

The Crimson was finally able to break the back-and-forth play of the game with a pair of consecutive second-half threes from junior guard Christian Juzang, bringing the score to 54-48. Harvard’s momentum was short-lived, however, as Siena struck with explosive back-to-back dunks within 31 seconds to extend the lead to 10 points and reclaim the energy of the game. This departure from the see-saw play that defined much of the second half proved to be an exception, as the Saints’ reclaimed momentum would last for another five minutes.

With 2:32 left to play in the game, the Crimson (4-4) broke the game’s standstill once again and found new life on a three-pointer from sophomore guard Rio Haskett. Junior wing Justin Bassey then contributed his own three-point play, this one the old fashioned way, knocking down a layup and completing the and-one opportunity by sinking his free-throw.

Siena (3-5), despite earlier struggles from the line, was able to do enough with its late free-throw opportunities to keep its lead into the final minute of play.

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Free-throws were an issue for both sides, with the Saints and Harvard both having dismal performances from the line. Siena was 9-17 from the stripe, and the Crimson only made 7-14 free shots. These struggles especially manifested at the end of the contest, for both sides. It was a miss from the Saints, however, that made the final seconds competitive.

A Siena missed free-throw with 23 seconds to play kept Harvard in the game. A rebound by sophomore forward Danilo Djuricic lead to a missed layup by Bassey, but Djuricic was there to follow up the miss with a tip-in. Djuricic was fouled on the tip-in, and converted on his free-throw. Holding onto a fragile three-point lead, the Saints took a timeout to regroup.

The stoppage in play was not enough to keep the Crimson off of its back, as Siena turned the ball over quickly. Following Juzang’s steal, Bassey pulled up for a final shot, but his attempt to tie the game from behind the arc was no good, and Siena took the game 67-64.

In contrast to the latter period, the first half was offensively challenged, as each team struggled to put the ball in the basket. Both teams shot under 40 percent from the field, as Harvard shot 36 percent while the Saints made a slightly better 37.9 percent of its shots. Of the Crimson’s 25 shots, 10 came from beyond the arc. This reliance on outside shot attempts could be due in part to the continued absence of junior forward Chris Lewis, who missed his third straight game, having previously sat out Harvard’s victories over Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross.

Despite the halftime score of 27-22 in Siena’s favor, the Crimson actually controlled much of the opening period. Harvard led the Saints for 65 percent of the first half, holding it for the last time until the break when Siena drilled a three-pointer to take the lead 20-19. The Saints would hold onto this lead into halftime, stretching it to five points with 37 seconds left on the clock. This would be its largest lead of the half.

The Crimson came out of the gates running, despite allowing the first points of the game. Harvard quickly struck back in the opening minute of the contest with a triple from senior captain Corey Johnson. Junior forward Henry Welsh and Bassey followed with quick buckets of their own. The reminder of the first half was mostly back-and-forth play, until Siena seized control of the momentum near the end of the period.

With just over five minutes left to play in the first half, the Saints started their tear from outside the arc. In the span of 2:03, three different Siena players knocked down three separate three pointers, interrupted only by a Crimson dunk from junior forward Robert Baker. A three-pointer from freshman guard Noah Kirkwood was Harvard’s only way to slow down the attack near the end of the half, keeping the Saints’ late run to marginal 8-3.

“I thought they played harder and more together than we did,” Amaker said. “And that was the difference.”

Following the break, the two squads returned to the back-and-forth play that dominated the first half, alternating for the first six baskets of the period. Siena first broke this streak with 16:15 left, following up a jumper with a three-pointer and denying the Crimson the opportunity to continue trading points. Not to be outdone, Johnson responded with a quick triple of his own. After a pair of baskets from the Saints made the game 41-31, the lead would hover around the low double-digits for the next seven minutes, with easier side able to string together any scoring runs and gain ground on the opposition. Despite Harvard’s late runs that pulled it close, Siena did not relinquish the lead it seized late in the first half for the remainder of the contest.


— Staff writer Joey Minatel can be reached at joseph.minatel@thecrimson.com.

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